In response to Sen. Wil Schroder’s article in support of his advocacy of the Senate Bill 9 which would repeal the prevailing wage for the construction workers on Kentucky School Projects. In an era of funding shortfalls, it is understandable to consider areas to cut costs. However, in this situation repealing the prevailing wage for construction workers would negatively impact their families who sent their children to Kentucky’s public schools.
Prevailing is defined as the hourly wage, usual benefits and overtime, paid to the majority or average of workers, laborers and mechanics within a particular geographic area. The prevailing wage promotes and encourages a skilled work force on our public buildings. This brings up the question of whether Kentucky wants lesser skilled craftspeople to build our children’s schools.
It should be noted that there are also other professionals who work on school construction projects. These professionals include architectural and engineering firms who can earn from 4 percent to 15 percent of the total cost of the construction of the project. It should be noted that owners of construction management firms and/or prime contractors usually make profits in excess 10 percent to 15 percent of the cost of the building.
I am not advocating cutting fees for architectural and engineering firms or profits for contractors. However, if Senator Schroder and his Republican colleagues are going to cut wages for the construction workers; then fundamental fairness requires that all fees and profits related to school construction should be cut by statute.
With the majority of Kentuckians supporting raising the minimum wage, one wonders why Kentucky Republicans and Senator Schroder support repealing Kentucky’s prevailing wage law. This law would negatively impact over 75,000 Kentucky construction workers and their families. Data indicates that construction workers in states that have repealed the prevailing wage make 22 to 25 percent less on average than construction workers who work in states with a prevailing wage.
In studies of states where the prevailing wage was repealed, in addition to lower wages for construction workers there was this impact:
1. Loss of substantial state income and sales tax revenues;Unfortunately, Kentucky is already a state where in many regions where wages are lower than the rest of the United States. Repealing Kentucky’s prevailing wage laws are going to drive wages and incomes even lower for many Kentuckians.
2. Skilled construction workers left these states and there was a shift to a less-skilled and educated construction labor force;
3. Cost overruns on state road construction tripled in the decade following repeal, due in part to diminished skill of the labor force;
4. Occupational injuries in construction rose by 15 percent in states which repealed prevailing wage laws; and
5. Construction training dropped by 40 percent in the states which repealed prevailing wage laws.
There are other ways to save money in government. Repealing the prevailing wage is not one of those ways. In fact, repealing the prevailing wage could cost the commonwealth more in the long run.
It should be noted that states like Mississippi, Louisiana and Kansas are states without prevailing laws. All three of those states are having problems with financing education. Mississippi and Louisiana are states at the bottom of the economic and education ladder in the United States. Should Kentucky join them at the bottom of America’s education and economic ladder?
Paul L. Whalen is an attorney in Fort Thomas.